There’s an objective in the military to find a work-life balance. Many people have the best intentions when they say this should be a priority, but many are simply unaware of reality or unwilling to test it. There is no such thing as work-life balance for the military. There is only the cut line.

What is the cut line?

The cut line is a horizontal line in your life that separates what is worth spending your time on (above the line) and what is not worth your time (below the line). Don’t believe me? Allow me to illustrate.

In the Navy, we often work late hours or go on deployments. Try to have work-life balance with your family and the job when you are floating out to sea on the other side of the planet. It is impossible.

You’re at a shore command or in garrison. How’s that training at 0500 affecting your work-life balance? Or perhaps that 24-hour duty on your anniversary? What about being called in on your day off?

These were all examples of work-related disruption. How about personal? What happens when your daughter or son goes to the emergency room? Are you worried about working enough hours?

While it would be great to to able to balance family, health, and work in a holistic manner, reality rarely allows this to happen. I love that people are thinking about what they value but work-life balance, but it is a myth.

Here are some life events that disrupt the balance: having a baby, taking a vacation, working overtime, etc. If you still aren’t convinced, let’s do a mental exercise.

Assume that you have 24 hours to live. How would you spend your last 24 hours? If you are like every person I’ve asked this question to, you’ll find your family and spend it with them. If not your family, then it will be your closest friends. You will spend that time on the things that are most valuable to you, which is the people you care about most.

Would you go to work? Nope. Would you even sleep? Probably not. Would you spend every resource to get to your family? Absolutely. What happened to your work-life balance?

What just happened is I raised your cut line by increasing the value of your time. In response, you didn’t seek work-life balance. You prioritized what was important and then cut the rest. This is the reality. If you want to be more productive and successful, then you have to increase the value of your time. This will, in turn, raise your cut line. Everyone has a fixed amount of time per day. Those who are successful value their time more than you and have cut more things out of their lives to spend time on the things that matter.

The essence of the cut line principle is to evaluate and prioritize what is important to you and then decide to cut the rest. Some of your friends might drop below the line and that is okay. Coming below the cut line does not mean these people or things have no value. It means you are being honest with yourself and prioritizing your time.

For every yes, there is an equal and opposite no in time. You can’t do everything. Be judicial about what you say yes to.

Choose one thing that should be below your cut line and swap out each minute you would spend on it for something that is worth more. Do this for one week and see what happens.